Sex workers' bank emerges top Bengal cooperative

Helping sex workers, recovery rate of 98 pc among feats

Sex workers' bank emerges top Bengal cooperative

Many cooperative banks in West Bengal may be on the verge of shutting shop, but one such bank continues to be a ray of hope in the darkness of a red-light district in Kolkata. 

Usha Multipurpose Cooperative Bank, formed and run by former sex workers for women from the same trade, has been adjudged the leading cooperative bank in the state.

The cooperative bank, run by the Usha Multipurpose Cooperative Society Limited, was formed in 2001 and is run by sex workers from Sonagachhi in north Kolkata, one of the largest red-light areas in Asia.

The bank, which has the privilege of being one of the first and largest financial entity run by sex workers in the continent, has been named the “Best Managed Cooperative” in West Bengal for 2014 at the 61st All India Cooperative Week.

The bank has created a record in recovering loans and reducing non-performing assets, otherwise considered a chronic disease for cooperative banks in India, especially in West Bengal, the bank’s financial director Shantanu Chatterjee said.

“We’ve recorded a recovery rate of 98 per cent,” he pointed out, adding that the remaining two per cent of unpaid dues “cannot be considered as a permanent bad loan in the true sense of the term.”

“These are dues from sex workers who cannot pay it back on time since they move around from one city to another. When they come to Kolkata, they visit our office and pay back the dues. Besides sex workers, Usha Multipurpose also works towards empowering people from marginalised sections of the society in backward areas of West Bengal. We disbursed more than Rs 3 crore in the last financial year, not just to sex workers but also to others from marginalised sections,” Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee explained that taking a loan from Usha bank is hassle-free and its interest rates were much lower than other public sector and cooperative banks.

“People who want to open an account with us need not carry any identity proof for the purpose. We run on trust and faith. We believe we’ve received good returns on these two values,” he said. 

Chatterjee said though the bank lost some amount of money investing in different chit funds in the last few years, they have remained on right track. 

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